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How a killer game sucked me and my son back to iOS devices

Are smartphones and tablets all the same? Or are there killer apps that still make people choose one brand over another?

Clash of Clans. Available on the Apple App Store -- and only the Apple App Store.

I'm not a big believer in killer apps, but I might have to revise that thinking. A game only for iOS has pulled me and one of my boys back to our iOS devices this summer. It's a sign how even as Apple faces challenges from a growing Android ecosystem, it still has plenty of pull.

The game is called Clash of Clans, and it has been our summer obsession. The kids started with it, and my wife suggested I should try it as well, to play with them.

Bad idea. Well, good idea, because we've had a lot of fun talking about base design, attack strategies, and what we're all building. Along with plenty of non-screen outdoor activities, it's made for a lot of bonding time.

It also brought two of us back to iOS devices we'd been using less. Clash of Clans is iOS-only.

My 12-year-old son has been a Windows Phone user since the "will they switch test" I ran with both my boys earlier this year. Microsoft let him hang onto the phone that he ended up loving on a long-term loan. And he's continued to love it more than the iPhone 4 he left behind.

Clash of Clans has been challenging that, however. At home, he can use the iPad to play. But when we're away, he can't check on his base like his 14-year-old brother can using his iPhone. He's seriously thinking of going back to the iPhone, all because of this one game.

For me, at the beginning of the summer, I'd been testing the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0, which is a nice little tablet similar to the iPad Mini. I still play with it from time to time, but I'm pretty much glued to my iPad now for my Clash of Clans activity. That's become an edge over the Samsung.

More notably, I'd been testing the Samsung Galaxy S4 over the past few weeks. It's a remarkable phone in that, for the first time, I found myself comfortable going out with only that phone and not also my iPhone as well. I'll have a future column about this, but a great camera, video, and the large screen have made it really compelling to me.

Clash of Clans changed that, however. I'm back to carrying either both phones or the iPhone, if I want to keep an eye on my gaming activity.

There are things exclusive to other platforms, of course. I love making and sharing Photo Spheres with my Nexus 4, something I can't do with the iPhone. (Yes, there's Photosynth, but it doesn't work as well.) I can't do it with the Samsung Galaxy S4, either, as Samsung dropped this native feature of Android.

If I'm headed somewhere scenic, I make a point to take the Nexus 4 -- so Photo Sphere is a kind of killer app, in that regard.

Of course, I'm fortunate in that I'm constantly testing many phones plus own several for work-related reasons. Ultimately, no app really kills another platform for me.

I think app store size wars have long given way to the bigger question about whether a platform has the apps that matter. For iOS and Android, it still feels they both do have many of the same important apps.

But as I wrote before, beyond the apps that matter, it may be the content that matters the most. Can you get the key content you want?

I know our fun with Clash of Clans will eventually run its course. But for me personally, someone who's never done much multiplayer gaming, I found it remarkable how just this one app could pull me back into a device, how it really was that key content I wanted.

Anyone have their own killer app or content that made you pick one platform over another?